BANGOR, Maine — Orono police questioned Chester Ruth for 52 minutes before they told him the love of his life was dead.
“It was painful,” Ruth, the longtime boyfriend of the University of Maine student killed by a hit-and-run driver 18 months ago, testified Thursday afternoon. “For the first hour, I was not told anything. They made me go through everything I’d done.
“They asked if I’d had an accident,” he told the jury during direct examination at the trial of the York County man accused in the death of Jordan Bakley, 20, of Camden. “They asked me when I had talked to Jordan. Eventually, they got around to telling me she’d been killed by a hit-and-run driver.”
“When they told you what had happened, how did you feel?” Penobscot County District Attorney R. Christopher Almy asked Ruth, 21, of Lincolnville.
Ruth, a microbiology major with long brown hair and a deep baritone voice, paused for a long time in the silent courtroom on the second floor of the Penobcot Judicial Center before answering.
“Horrible,” Ruth replied. “Basically, it was like they were saying the life that you’ve been living right up until now is completely gone — erased. My best friend, the person I loved, the person who took care of me and helped me a lot … to find that …”
Ruth stopped talking in midsentence as he struggled to control his emotions.
“I told them I’d do anything to help them,” he said after regaining his composure.
Ruth, wearing a black suit and dark blue shirt without a tie, testified on the third day of the trial of Garrett Cheney, 23, of South Berwick.
Cheney is charged with manslaughter, aggravated criminal operating under the influence of intoxicants, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in serious bodily injury, and criminal operating under the influence of intoxicants.
Orono police Detective Andrew Whitehouse testified before Ruth took the stand that the boyfriend’s cell phone number was the last one dialed on Bakley’s cell phone, which was found open 16 to 20 feet from her body.
Bakley’s body was found about 5:30 a.m. Jan. 30, 2010, against a snowbank in front of 15 Middle St. by a newspaper carrier. She lived in an apartment house at 27 Middle St., according to previous testimony.
In addition to a series of outgoing calls from Bakley to Ruth in the hours before her death, several unanswered calls from Ruth’s cellphone to hers were found by investigators.
Whitehouse told jurors that he and Maine State Police Detective Carleton Small went in an Orono cruiser to interview Ruth at his apartment about noon on Jan. 30, 2010. The Orono detective testified that they asked one of Ruth’s roommates to wake him for them and send him out to the police car.
“He seemed nervous and uncomfortable,” Whitehouse said of Ruth’s behavior during the interview in the cruiser. “His lip quivered sometimes. At one point he took his shoes off and put his feet up under himself.”
The interview ended, the detective said, when Ruth became “inconsolable” after he was told Bakley was dead.
Whitehouse said that he checked all the vehicles in the apartment complex parking lot, including Ruth’s older model Nissan Maxima, but found no vehicles with any damage that matched what the medical examiner had told investigators at the scene — that they should be looking for a truck or SUV because Bakley was struck on her thigh, above the knee.
In addition to telling the jury about his interview with police, Ruth testified about the several phone conversations he had with Bakley the night of Jan. 29 and the morning of Jan. 30, 2010. He said Thursday that she had called him between 2:30 and 3 a.m. as she was leaving a party on Oak Street, which runs parallel to Mill Street and Middle Street in downtown Orono. She asked him to come spend the night at her apartment at 27 Middle St. in Orono.
Ruth said that he drove from his apartment at Orchard Trails, located on U.S. Route 2 at the back entrance to UMaine, to her apartment and waited for her.
“I started calling her, but there was no answer,” he told the jury. “I waited 10 to 15 minutes, sitting on her bed, petting the cat. Then I got annoyed.”
When she did not show up, Ruth testified, he drove back to his apartment, but went away from rather than toward 15 Middle St., where Bakley’s body was found. He said that he returned home and watched television for another 15 minutes or so, then drove back to 27 Middle St. but did not see Bakley walking or her body.
“I was getting pretty upset,” he told the jury. “I’d left her all these voicemails and she hadn’t called back. Earlier in the day [on Saturday] she’d got mad at me because I wouldn’t go to the grocery store with her. I didn’t know if she wasn’t answering because she was trying to get back at me or what was happening.
“I got tired of waiting and was mad, so I left again,” he said. “I threw my cellphone into my car so hard it broke the clock in the dashboard. Eventually, when I got home, I broke my phone.”
He said that he went to bed between 4:15 and 4:20 a.m.
Ruth is expected to be back on the stand Friday morning for cross-examination by defense attorney William T. Bly of Biddeford.
Cheney was in Orono on Jan. 29 visiting a cousin to celebrate the cousin’s 21st birthday, according to an Orono police affidavit filed at the time of his arrest on April 16, 2010.
After allegedly hitting Bakley, Cheney headed south on Interstate 95. His Chevrolet Silverado went off the highway about 3:30 a.m. in Etna, according to the affidavit. The damaged pickup was towed to the storage lot of a Newport towing firm.
Cheney was not injured but was charged with drunken driving. His blood alcohol level was 0.15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit, two hours after his truck left I-95, according to the affidavit.
If convicted of manslaughter, the most serious crime with which he is charged, Cheney, who has no criminal history, faces up to 30 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained wrong information about where Garrett Cheney, the man on trial in the hit-and-run death of Jordyn Bakley, lives. Cheney is from South Berwick, not North Berwick.